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Hospitals and Care Homes To Have Appointed Dementia Specialist

Posted Feb 10 2009 11:31am

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has confirmed that all care homes and hospitals across England will be required to have a doctor specifically assigned to them to ensure dementia sufferers are well looked after.

GP’s will obtain special training in order to recognise the early onset of dementia, and so-called “memory clinics” will be created in every town and city over the next five years to help people with deteriorating mental health get a quicker diagnosis. In addition “Dementia advisers” will be better equipped to support families.

Mr Johnson commented that the fact two-thirds of sufferers do not receive an early enough treatment to have a chance at battling the condition, was unacceptable, “This needs to come out of the dark and the shadows. For many people, diagnosis can be difficult, care can be patchy and, without adequate support, families can be under huge stress. All that must change.”

As the population ages, the number of dementia cases are expected to increase sharply. At the moment there are 600,000 people with the condition but this is expected to increase to a million by 2025 and to 1.4 million in the next 30 years unless there is a medical advance in treatment.

Phil Hope, the Care Services minister, said, “If we diagnose earlier, we can intervene earlier. One third of patients are never actually formally diagnosed – many people don’t get a diagnosis for three years.

“We want to tackle that stigma so that more people come forward earlier so they can be supported in their own home. Over a long period of time, it would save money because fewer people would have to go into more expensive residential care.”

A number of charities and interest groups were happy with the new plans. Chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, Rebecca Wood, admitted it was “astonishing” but unfortunately significant issues had not been addressed in the plans.

“This strategy is only the first step to tackling our dementia crisis, and it’s a huge letdown that so much has been left out,” she said. “It is astonishing that dementia research is not a fundamental component of this strategy, and disappointing that the review of anti-psychotic drugs has been delayed yet again.

“The Government spends about as much on dementia research each year as it costs to build a single mile of motorway. Dementia costs our economy £17bn a year – more than cancer, heart disease, and stroke combined – yet receives eight times less government support than cancer. This economic burden will triple within 30 years.”

However other interest groups were satisfied with the plans. Head of Age Concern, Gordon Lishman, talked of the proposals as being, “all very welcome as, despite the expected growth in the number of people with dementia, there is still stigma and fear about the  illness”.

Paul Cann of Help the Aged said, “Dementia is fast becoming the hidden epidemic of the 21st century, so the Government’s focus on early diagnosis and support is a positive step. But hand-in-hand with early diagnosis, there needs to be a commitment to providing more money for research into the causes.”

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